My Trip to the Inauguration with the Women of Code Pink
I think I was about ten years old when I learned a pseudo factoid about the Eskimo word for snow. It went something like—because Eskimo life is so snowy, they have over forty words for the white stuff while we only have one word—snow—period. Like most kids I was awestruck by this, and I set out to come up with something in my suburban Pittsburgh white middle class Irish Catholic existence with forty names in my world to one scant word for an Eskimo kid. I scrutinized and postulated carefully, consulted my elders, and read entire volumes of the World Book Encyclopedia, but I came up empty. There was no parallel. My universe was truly uni—one of each thing. I felt impoverished and yearned to go to Alaska to witness such splendid variety. I doubt if anyone from all of Pennsylvania went to Alaska that year. Of course, I didn’t go myself but instead I continued to marvel at the beauty of snowflakes splayed on my dark mittens and unconsciously search for my own forty varieties of something, anything to lend abundance to my world.
And I believe I finally found my forty varieties and then some last month in Washington, DC when I hitched my wagon to the women of Code Pink at the Inauguration of Barack Obama. I’d learned about Code Pink rather haphazardly while traipsing around Denver during the Democratic National Convention last August. My husband, singer-songwriter Jim Page and I were trying to make our way to a park to be one of 10,000 ordinary Americans lying down in the grass to break the world record for the most peopled human peace sign in history. Jim and I were lost and losing steam in the 104 degree heat, and I stuck out my thumb to hitch a ride from anyone except the police, thank you very much. Within seconds, a crazy- looking pink motor home bedecked with fuchsia boas, hot pink streamers, blinking neon peace signs and hundreds of bumper stickers covering every square inch of the thing pulled over, and the door opened to invite us in.
Inside we got the story of Code Pink—women for peace—and were dropped at the park as newly ordained Code Pinks outfitted with a few hundred “Make Out Not War” stickers and other giveaway swag to spread the message. The Code Pink group was ever present at both the DNC and the RNC. I’d venture to say they were at least a thousand strong and seemed to be everywhere, sometimes obvious in parades, actions, rallies and the like but often undercover until just the right moment. You may remember during McCain’s televised acceptance speech when a young Iraq war vet yelled out about McCain’s poor record on support for vets. Then two women took off their dark coats, revealing pink, and yelled their directive to end the war in Iraq. They were hastily carted off. McCain seemed to be amused—”Ignore the static!” he told his quaking devotees. Today Code Pink has somewhere in the region of 50,000 “members” with an equal number of styles and degrees of commitment and affiliation. The Nation magazine recently branded Code Pink the most “significant, effective peace group of the decade!”
The magnetic and accessible beauty of Code Pink is cut from simple age-old cloth with basic ingredients. For starters, America has always loved charismatic street theatre, especially flamboyant female characters from the working class ala Rosie the Riveter. And we require simple, strong messaging and branding with great visuals that evolve and morph over time. The US penchant for the sporting life begs for anything with really positive energy. Oh yes, don’t forget Code Pink actually has something to say that lots of people are already thinking, quietly. The phenomenon is really one of supply and demand presented in a pro-active very fashionable manner. Peace work Code Pink style is easy for folks from all walks of life to understand and accept.
I don’t really know how they did it, but the Pinks could be seen everywhere at both the DNC and the RNC. Herds of them rode pink bikes down the streets with banners trailing behind—phalanxes of women wearing pink petticoats that said, “Give Bush a Pink Slip,” and I saw dozens of beauty queens wearing gowns with sashes declaring “I Miss America.” My favorite set was the smartly appointed old school waitresses—all pink of course—”serving up peace at the Code Pink Café.” Code Pink has been around since 2003, and there seems to be endless variety to their craftiness and fresh, timely delivery.
Code Pink has a commitment to non-violence, but a few Code Pinks were arrested in Denver at the DNC although it was very much an open city with few overall arrests. And of course, several dozen were arrested in St. Paul at the RNC, which was by contrast a very closed city with an outrageous security presence and an unprecedented exemption from just cause for arrest.
The RNC in St. Paul was frankly scary in that you actually had to work to stay out of the line of fire. I was so intimidated by the general tension, interrogating looks, curfews, road blocks, tear gas, rubber bullets and 5,000 cops that I went to the Goodwill Store and bought a Sarah Palin style red, white and blue suit—very ugly but very safe. And to guild the lily, I made several sets of bogus CNN press credentials at Kinko’s. How, you ask? Our host at the RNC was an intern at the CNN grill. One night she strategically left her lanyard of laminated credentials on the coffee table and gave me the nod. Of course, upon inspection they were quickly spotted as fakes, but while I walked briskly in my blue and white spectator pumps they did the trick and won me safe passage into some interesting circles.
After the festivities of the DNC and the fanaticism of the RNC, I went back to Seattle and watched and worked and prayed and made calls and registered 24 homeless people to vote and did my part like there was no tomorrow. I really felt like America was in the Emergency Room and I was part of a frantic crash cart team, trying anything to resuscitate our country.
In the meantime, I learned more about Code Pink and got close with my local Seattle chapter. Traditionally, local groups work on national and local initiatives at the same time, keeping things relevant and yet connected. We did actions around town while looking forward to the Inauguration. In one afternoon we stuffed 12 members into my bio-diesel RV and spent several hours reaching out. On that day alone we visited Nickelsville—the Seattle homeless encampment named after Mayor Nickels—to offer support, presented our Peace Platform at Pike Market, and brought the Code Pink Café to the campaign volunteers at Obama headquarters in downtown Seattle (flooded with activity and joy), and the McCain headquarters (an isolated east side office without signage or volunteers to offer refreshment to—hmmmm?)
So, then it happened. America actually came to our collective senses, and we elected Barack HUSSEIN Obama 44th President of the United States. So in early December I set out from Seattle in my Honda Odyssey to join the women of Code Pink at the inauguration of Obama—the yes we can make change happen and thank god we did damn it President of the finally, maybe, United States.
I took route 90 the whole way, blindly driving through a few snow squalls but narrowly missing the staggering storms and the lake effect snows that later hit the Great Lakes region. I got a cup of coffee at the Wall Drug Store which has absolutely no drugs by the way, got a “Biker Babe” T-shirt in Sturgis, took a picture of Mt. Rushmore with snow landing on giant hooked noses, sang “Your Cheatin’ Heart” and almost won a karaoke contest in the smokiest bar in the world in Rapid City, saw an all girl Grateful Dead cover band in Madison, and perhaps unwisely skipped out on 4 of the absurd and dangerous 64 cent tolls around Chicago. I’d decided in Seattle that if gas ducked below $2 a gallon I would drive east—unmanifesting my destiny all the way. As I left the Pacific Ocean behind gas got cheaper and cheaper with the final low in North Dakota—$1.47 a gallon. Without the Atlantic Ocean perhaps gas would be mere pennies I thought.
The holidays were uneventful. Family reunions are never what they’re cracked up to be, and the further east I went the more nuts people thought I was for wanting to go anywhere near the Inauguration on Jan. 20th. But I’d made my reservation with history. Two million plus others from the planet would be there, so why not me?
All the way I got beautiful e-mail message alerts from Codepinkalert.org about the planned activities. I’d hoped to stay at the Code Pink House just off of H Street—in the shadow of Union Station. A many-roomed old three story row house that sleeps 28 and offers a warm bed with the staff and key volunteers—but the house was long full. The staff kindly hooked me up with one of their local DC members, and I was set. The Pinks set up a “Convergence Space” in an empty apartment near the house for everyone from around the country to come together for trainings, refreshment and to make ready for actions. And the house was always open and lots of gatherings, pot-lucks, meetings and meals were shared.
The Code Pink agenda at the Inauguration was simple and clear. The catchphrase that arched over all the activities and actions was “Yes We Can-Can End The War!” The razzle-dazzle eye candy was simple and flamboyant—several dozen Can-Can girls of all ages wearing layered pink skirts—pink boas—flapper-esque sequined headbands with bouncing pink feathers on their heads that made it easy to find in a crowd. The public was treated to dancing and festive songs and chanted messages for change and peace. The public loved the Can-Can girls. As usual Code Pink had found a fun and festive entry into the hearts and minds.
Code Pink was well prepared to entertain and engage the public. There were 40,000 18 inch pink satin ribbons with the words “Obama Keep Your Promises For Peace!” in flowing white script to be given away along with a simple flier listing Obama’s campaign promises relative to peace and justice. The work is not done—we need to keep our eye on the prize—was the underlying message
The quarter page flier draws directly from Obama’s campaign speeches and press conferences and reads as follows;
Barack Obama has promised to:
1. End the war in Iraq
2. Shut Down Guantanamo
3. Reject the Military Commissions Act
4. Stop torture
5. Work to eliminate nuclear weapons
6. Hold direct, unconditional talks with Iran
7. Abide by Senate approved international treaties
After 8 long years of the Bush Administration’s lawless ways, we applaud Barack Obama’s vows to bring the United States back into compliance with international law. We ourselves pledge to hold President Obama accountable for fulfilling his promises. These are promises to keep and we will hold him to them! Join us in pledging to hold Obama accountable to his promises. TAKE YOUR VOTE TO THE NEXT LEVEL! www.REMINDOBAMA.ORG
Code Pink took Union Station by storm as Obama rolled in from his whistle stop trek from Philadelphia. We engaged the public everywhere and anywhere—tying the ribbons on index fingers in bows, reminder style, and encouraging people to make a peace sign and hold up our pre-made pink sign saying Obama Keep Your Promises for Peace! We gave away thousands of ribbons, photographed hundreds, and posted the photos on flickr for all the world to see.
I was a driver for probably 20 different “actions,” stuffing my Odyssey full of Code Pinks for galas, parades, press conferences, rallies, and more. From Saturday January 17th until Wed January 21st, the schedule was jam-packed. Code Pink co-sponsored several events including a press conference at the National Press Club supporting the Bring the National Guard Home movement that is being advanced on the state level across the country. I learned that each state actually has the power to refuse to send their National Guard to Iraq although none of exercised this right to date. Hopefully this will change soon. It was something of a crash course with some of the most fascinating instructors coming from the Code Pink ranks—which include retired military colonels, teachers, students, moms, teens, kids and lots of men.
The Inauguration itself was unbelievable in its scope. DC was so totally transformed, and the air was tingling and alive with really happy people. I haven’t seen that many happy people in my entire life, let alone at one event. I could tell you lots of stories about my adventures in DC and perhaps I will in the future, but all of my experiences were made possible and colored by my engagement with Code Pink work.
Yes, I found at least forty shades of peace in my Code Pink experience at the Inauguration of President Obama. Visually, it could be seen in the many shades of pink worn and the limitless energy and commitment. And spiritually, I was continuously inspired by the acceptance, humor and strength welling from work focused on accepting a full spectrum. I saw the forest and the trees, the peace sign softly hidden in the snow. Finally, I had returned to the awe-inspiring wonder that comes when you unearth a treasure that you know is there for the seeing.
And I’m still counting.
For detailed information about Code Pink: the founding and founders; archives of past campaigns including photos, videos and blogs; current campaign work; how you can stay informed; find your local chapter and go pink check out Codepinkalert.org.